Compact Written Constructed Language: CWCL

Version 1.0

Some time ago I was rewatching “Living Planet”.
In the ocean depths, where sunlight never reaches, a great variety of creatures produce their own light for a variety of purposes.
The treasure that is David Attenborough notes that visual communication is most likely the most commonly used communication on Earth.
Why I am reminded of this is recently a friend sent me an article.
The article claimed that typing was a thing of the past, since voice recognition was now so good.
I have to use Microsoft Teams for meetings and I can assure you that this is not the case! Transcriptions are sometimes amusing, and often baffling. Part of this is that most human beings do not talk in a particularly structured or clear fashion.
The irony that my friend had written an email to tell me about this article, and the article itself was written, was not lost on me. Even more ironic was the article was from a newspaper, a medium that is probably more likely to become obsolete soon than typing will.
I will not go into all the reasons that I believe this article is wrong, nor the good reasons for hoping that this is the case.
The article did get me thinking on a quite contrary tract.
We tend to think of language as being sound, but this is only partially true.
Writing is one of the greatest and most important inventions of mankind. The majority of our centuries of knowledge is preserved as the written word, be it in books, clay tablets, scrolls or computer memory.
Creating a constructed language (conlang) is an amusing (and sometimes frustrating) diversion, but if we are honest, most of us know the majority of human society is not going to adopt yet another spoken language, no matter what advantages it may offer.
Most people assimilate information in a written form quicker than they may if it is given verbally. Comprehension may possibly be better from written sources.
Some conlangs work much better in written form than spoken. Some creators neglect phonology or euphony, or miss that many different letter combinations will be pronounced the same by certain users.
What if, I wondered, we attempt to create a conlang that is only intended to be written and read, and not spoken? Thus began CWCL: Compact Written Constructed Language.
English is often clearer in written form than spoken.
Many of the English homophones with distinct meanings have different spellings: night,/knight, week/weak, waste/waist. meet/meat, which/witch, whether/weather/wether, write/right, by/buy, break/brake, duel/dual, two/to/too, there/their/they're, your/yaw/you’re; although the latter often catch the sloppy or inattentive writer.
One of the stumbling blocks of creating a conlang is fleshing out the vocabulary. Basing CWCL on English gives an extensive range of short words, and a large body of abbreviations or contractions for longer words. Words not in the CWCL dictionary may be adopted from sources such as the Oxford Dictionary of Abbreviations.
The meaning of a sentence in CWCL will often be understandable to many readers familiar with English, even if English is not their native language.
Since words are intended to be understood, but not expected to be pronounced, we have a much greater option of letter combinations.
This means we may communicate the same meaning with less keystrokes.
Additionally, more meaning may be applied in to a small area of text, useful for warning labels or lists of ingredients.
Isn’t this texttalk, some of you will be asking? Yes and no.
The transcription of text talk is entirely up to the individual writing, and limited by their imagination (or lack of). Very often the meaning is a puzzle to the recipient.
As a constructed language/form of controlled English, CWCL has an actual dictionary that may be used as a reference.
Ideally, this dictionary may be incorporated into word processors, allowing the writer to select the correct words, the reader to easily translate a message, and the author to easily and quickly enter text in CWCL and have it converted to traditional English.
CWCL would also attempt to address some of the stumbling blocks of traditional written English.
The majority of verbs will be regular.
Some of the more confusing or ambiguous features of English will be eliminated.
Grammar will become more logical and the meaning clearer.
This page is a work in progress. Expect updates and changes.

Accessibility and Convenience

CWCL should be capable of being written using the keys of a US 104 key keyboard, as this is the type most likely to be encountered globally.
Accented letters, diacritics and symbols that need more keystrokes than the use of one key and the shift, ctrl or alt key are to be avoided, at least for the most commonly used words.
If you cannot recall a CWCL word, or just choose not to, it makes little difference if you type the longer, more traditional form.

Four Items or Less

CWCL is based on an idea I have previously discussed and called 4lsh. Representing every word in English with just four letters or less may not be achievable, but hopefully this may be achieved for the majority of the most commonly used and useful words.
Some of the most commonly used or useful words will be represented by words of three or less letters.

Five Letter Words

Some five letter words from traditional English may easily be converted to four letter CWCL words.
Many five letter words end in doubled consonants that contribute nothing. Hence shell, skill, grass, class and kill are simplified to shel, skil, gras, clas and kil. Note this may be used on words already with four letter to create shorter words.
Similarly, -ck may be simplified as just -k, shack and rack becoming shak n rak.
Agent nouns or other words with the endings -er, -ar, -or become -r.
Four letter CWCL nouns become five letters or longer if pluralized (-s or -es). Four letter or less CWCL verbs become longer if made into agent nouns (-r), participles or inflected (-g, -d/-n).
A terminal -e may be omitted if it does not contribute to the preceding vowel sound. Therefore, edge and live become edg and liv.
Adoption a more phonetic spelling may be used to shorten some words. Noise becomes noyz.


The majority of verbs in CWCL will become regular.
Third person present singular inflection will not be used: I wash, you wash, he wash, she wash, we wash, they wash.
For simple past, the verb takes the ending -d (representing -ed). This may be used on the perfect tense and is used on the past participle.
The ending -g (representing -ing) may be used for the progressive and continuous tense. It is always used for the present participle.
The future tense is indicated by the use of the auxiliary verb “will” (w/wl).
The continuous/progressive tense is indicated by the use of the auxiliary verb “be” (b/bn). The ending -g (representing -ing) may be used for the progressive and continuous tense, although this is optional since the auxiliary verb established the tense.
The perfect aspect is indicated by the use of the auxiliary verb “have” (h/hd). The ending -d (representing -ed) may be used for the perfect aspect, although this is optional since the auxiliary verb established the aspect.
The present and past participles derived from regular verbs always have the ending -g or -d, respectively.
A very small number of verbs in CWCL are irregular. These happen to be some of the most widely used verbs, so learning these exceptions is relatively easy.
The most irregular CWCL verb is the verb “be (b/ws)”
“b” is used for the simple present, and with “w” for the future tense. The simple past is formed with ws (was) and the subjunctive with wr (wr).
The continuous/present participle is “bg (being)” and the perfect/past participle “bn (been)”.
The use of wr for past tense is permissible, and alternatives for present are am (first person singular), s (is), and ar (are).
The verb “do” is irregular, but considerably less so than “be”. Present/future is d/w d (do/will do). Past is dd (did). The continuous/present participle is “dg (doing)” and the perfect/past participle “dn (done)”. Only the perfect/past participle is irregular.
The verb “go” is more irregular. Present/future is g/w g (go/will go). Past is wnt (went). The continuous/present participle is “gg (going)” and the perfect/past participle “gn (gone)”.
The verb “have/had” is regular.
Verbs of communication (write, read, talk, say, state, ask etc) may have a different form to other verbs. To be decided.

Problem Verbs

Some verbs in English cause considerable unnecessary problems.
Problems with the verb lie-lay-lying-lain (intransitive) and lay-lying-laid (transitive) have been previously discussed. Add to this the unrelated meaning of lie and lying as practicing a falsehood.
The former usage may need a single transitive verb with the option of using a reflexive pronoun.
“Borrow” and “lend/loan” essentially describe the same action, but in different direction. A single verb combined with a relevant proposition could serve instead/
That “affect” is a verb, and an “effect” a noun confuses many.
By treating CWCL as a controlled language, some of these problems may be resolved.

Vowel Precedence

Or “Elves In An Obscene Union!”
“E” is the most common vowel used in English, “U” the least.
“Elves In…” is my phrase for remembering the order of vowel precedence “EIAOU”.
Vowel precedence is a tool I am trying for creating and interpreting CWCL words.
For example, should “crst” be used for “crust” or “crest”? Vowel precedence tells us crest. Should “wnt” be want, went, wont? The answer is went.
If we read “cnt”, what is it most likely to mean? Cent is a word, but one that already has a more widely used abbreviation, symbol or contraction. Cint is not an English word, so next we try “cant”.. This is a valid English word, but more common is “can't/cannot”, which is the correct answer and may also be revealed by context.

Proper Names

In general, proper names should be written in full. If a shorthand for such is to be used, it should be introduced and defined at or near the first use of the longhand term. This is just good practice in any writing. For example: “I w see Paul Brown (PB) in Winchester (wchr). PB knw e hsry of wchr.”

Th- Words

Many English words that begin with “th-” are useful words such as determiners or pronouns. Learning the CWCL for these should be one of the first steps in mastering CWCL. Most of these words still begin with th-, Note that the “exception” is the word “the”, which is represented by the single letter “e”.
that: tht, the: e, their: thr', then: thn, them: thm, there: thr, they: thy, this: ths

Wh- Words

The interrogative and relative words beginning with “Wh-”, with “how” as an honorary member, are also worth learning early on.
what: wht, when: whn, where: whr, which: whc, who: who(wh), how: hw, whom: whm, whose: wh'.

Other Symbols

The standard US keyboard offers symbols other than letters, and some of these should be utilized in writing CWCL.
The symbol @ may be used instead of the word “at”, and this meaning is already widely understood. & or + may be used in place of “and”, although using “n” involves less keys.
w/o represents “without”, and w/ is “with”.
q? represents the words “query” or “question”.
There is little point in typing out the names of numbers such as four or fifteen when we already have keys for their symbols, such as 4 or 15.
These may be combined as necessary: 3ngl and 4ngl may be read as “triangle” and “quadrangle”.
Ordinal numbers are represented by a numeral followed by the symbol “~”, so first, third, twentieth become 1~, 3~, 20~.
Fractions become a slash followed by the denominator numeral, so half, third, quarter, fifth, twentieth become /2, /3, /4, /5, /20. Logically, this suggests that /1 would mean “whole” or “complete”.
The word “number” may use the symbol “#”, the word “smile” becomes “s)” and so on.
Texttalk often uses “puns” such as B4 for before, H8 for hate, 2 for to/two/too. My gut instinct to to avoid these. Many CWCL alternatives are just as easy to use, and I am not sure how well such shorthands are understood by those for whom English is a second language.

Regular Plurals and Possessives

As already described for 4lsh, plurals are formed by adding a terminal -s. Singular words ending in one or more “s” take -es.
Irregular plurals from traditional English become regular plurals by adding -s/-es to the singular term. Hence child/children is chld/chlds, knife/knives is knif/knifs and sheep is shep/sheps.
A noun or pronoun becomes possessive by adding “-'” without any additional “s”. Unlike traditional English, all possessive pronouns in CWCL take an apostrophe.

Less Words and More Words

In his book, “Plea for an American Language”. p.121, Elias Molee describes what he considers a number of defects of traditional English. This is interesting reading, since in the century or more since, no progress has been made.
Many of Molee's comments concern phonology and euphony, which obviously have no relevance to a written-only language such as CWCL.
Comments that are relevant include that English suffers both from too many, and too few words.
In many instances, we have numerous differing words that have the same meaning. We also have various words that have multiple, different and sometimes contrasting meanings.
Of the latter, Molee give the examples “light” and “sound”. Light may mean illumination, not-heavy or not-dark. Sound may mean noise, healthy or sturdy, or the depth of water. Molee proposes separate words for each meaning.
STE attempts to assign single meanings to the English words it uses, but the meaning of the same word in different parts of speech may vary. “Light” as an adjective means not-heavy, while as a verb it refers to illumination.
“Live” in English may mean “to be living” or as an adjective such as “live (not recorded) broadcast”. The pronunciation is different so in CWCL the related but distinct meanings are represented by “liv” and “lyv”.
Systems such as STE, Special English and Plain English may be useful in refining the CWCL dictionary, although some suggested substitutions are not direct equivalents.
English has a certain amount of snobbery and reverse snobbery when it comes to word selection. CWCL will attempt to prioritize communication and clarity instead. Words made from compounding other words are often clearer in meaning. water-pipe technician, eye-doctor and fish-researcher and more transparent in meaning than plumber, oculist and ichthyologist.
CWCL needs less words than English, but more words with clear meanings.

New Grammar

Traditional English grammar is simpler than that of many languages, but there is still room for further improvement.
Many of the ideas detailed on the page on ACE grammar should be used in CWCL. This includes the hyphenation of phrasal and prepositional verbs, binding order, and rules for anaphora resolution. Some of the style suggestions given for STE are also worth consideration, keeping in mind some suggestions only apply to writing technical manuals.
CWCL may use the reflexive pronoun “se”. When used as the object of a verb it replaces such words as myself, himself, themselves etc.
Sentences in CWCL may sometimes be treated like arithmetical statements. For example, in traditional English a statement like “he saw the angry John, Alan and Jane” may be encountered. How many of these individuals are angry is not clear.
Instead, the sentence could have been more clearly written :
“he saw the angry {John}, Alan and Jane”
“he saw the angry {John, Alan} and Jane”
“he saw the angry {John, Alan and Jane}”
This concept may also be used to clarify anaphora resolution. For example:
“{John and two friends} walk. They are tired” This makes it clear John and both his friends are all tired.
CWCL sentences may also be constructed like statements in simple (symbolic) logic. Such an approach clearly identifies the failing of conlangs such as Esperanto which use binary approaches to word derivation.
For example, in Esperanto, beautiful is bela, ugly is malbela. varma is hot, malvarma is cold.
In reality, there are very few true binary opposites. Life is messy and the universe various degrees of grey rather black or white.
If we adopt “bela” as “beautiful” in CWCL, “n-bela” is “not beautiful”, or everything else that is not described or has the property of beautiful.
N- is an exclusion rather than an opposite.
In symbolic logic this would be represented as the relationship of p to ¬p.
A work in progress. Refer back to this page for changes and updates.